Rodents like mice or rats are pretty hardy creatures to deal with. They can actually leap off tall buildings in a single bound, pass through seemingly solid walls and may even be able to smell nuclear fallout. They’re not superheroes but something far less welcome in your home.
Just as the arrival of cold weather sends people looking for the comfort of a heated place, it has the exact same effect on rodents, sending mouse, mice and rats to the relative comfort of your basement or crawlspace, or even to the rooms in which you live. Cohabitating with these creatures isn’t just frightening, but a potentially serious health threat, especially for families with children.
Fall and winter are an especially busy time of year for encounters with these less than welcome houseguests. Mice are rapid breeders and need warm nests to keep up the pace. So when the cold arrives, they move indoors to ensure that their nest keeps warm. Mice like to eat the same foods we do and they’ll do whatever it takes to get to your cupboards.
And doing whatever it takes to eat is something mice and rats have had thousands of years to practice.
If you’ve ever thought you can “mouse proof” your house by sealing up small gaps around the outside, forget it. Mice can squeeze through spaces as small as a nickel and rats need a space only twice that size to find their way into to your home. You can look for obvious gaps that can allow rodents to get in and seal them, but with rats when there’s a will, there’s a way.
And, if you think you can avoid a mouse by just jumping up on a chair, you can forget that too. Rodents are great climbers and jumpers. A mouse can leap 12 inches into the air and jump down from a height of 12 feet without injury. Rats are even more resilient. They can leap 36 inches vertically and even jump off a 50-foot tall building without a scratch.
Scared of Mice and Rats? You are in good company! For most people, the experience of meeting face-to-face with one of these furry creatures can be frightening. According to a survey done by the American Dental Association, seeing a mouse is the third most common fear of most Americans, right behind the fear of public speaking and the fear of going to the dentist. In fact, fear of mice is so common, it even has it’s own name: “musophobia.”
But besides the risk of coming down with a good case of musophobia, living with rodents can be extremely unhealthy. Jeff May, an expert on indoor air quality and author of the new book “My House is Killing Me”(John Hopkins University Press), says there are literally dozens of ways a rodent infestation can contaminate your house.
“Mice are not particular about where they leave their droppings,” May says. “The droppings become moldy and the mold spores are released to the air inside your home, producing horrible odors and a potentially very unhealthy environment.” May says mice are also a transport mechanism for other potentially allergen-producing insects, such as mites and carpet beetles.”
The result of this contamination of your home’s living space can also be very dangerous for children, according to two studies completed by scientists at Johns Hopkins Medical Institution. Mouse allergen, in the form of urine or dander, was found to be a significant contributing factor to a childhood asthma epidemic in urban areas.
Mice and allergens in the home. Before these studies, mice weren’t widely recognized as an allergen in homes,” says Dr. Robert Wood, associate professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins and the lead investigator of both studies. “Now we know that houses are full of it, and we were surprised that mice turned out to be even more important in inner city asthma than cats, dogs or dust mites.”
Dr. Andrew Campbell, medical director for the Texas-based Center for Immune, Environmental and Toxic Disorders, agrees. He says he’s also seen increasing evidence that people have been becoming sick from exposure to rodents. “It’s hard to get direct connected evidence because you’d have to catch the mouse. However, in our practice there is indirect evidence where we can assume it came from a mouse.”
Campbell says he’s seeing situations where children have been bitten with no other rational explanation. Equally disgusting, he’s seen people get sick from eating food which may have been consumed by rodents. “Sometimes a patient will assume a piece of fruit has a bad spot, cut it out, and eat the rest. The food can be contaminated by bacteria and viruses carried by the rodent. This results in lymph node enlargement, diarrhea and other problems. Typically the patient needs a stronger antibiotic which is not the usual first line of defense with other infections.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration estimates that rodents contaminate approximately 400,000 tons of food annually.
Rodents have been around for centuries and are not going anywhere soon. Mice have even been shown to be able to smell nuclear fallout. A study conducted by the International University of Health and Welfare in Japan claims that mice can “smell” low level or radiation that cannot be detected by humans.
Avoiding Mice and Rats. Fortunately, there a number of ways you can rodent control your house::
- Avoid nesting sites: Stacks of newspapers, cardboard boxes, firewood, lumber or other storage encourages nesting. Keep all storage off the ground or floor at the inside and outside foundation perimeters of your home. Keep bushes, plants or hedges trimmed back away from the house foundation too.
- Keep a clean house: Wash dishes and cooking utensils immediately after use. Keep counters and floors free of soiled food. And, clean the inside cabinets and pantries frequently to avoid feeding furry creatures.
Secure storage: Keep all food, water and garbage in metal or thick plastic containers with tight fitting lids. Never leave food or water out overnight.
- Seal Entrances: Mice can squeeze through spaces as small as a finger. Seal up potential entrances with sheet metal, steel wool or cement. Pay particular attention to the spaces around pipes, vents and ducts.
- Use rodenticides: Poisons designed to eliminate rodent infestations are safe and highly effective if used in accordance with label directions. If exposure to children or pets is a concern, use lockable bait stations. With a bait station, the poison is secured inside a container that has holes small enough for only a rodent to enter.
The old phrase “beating the rat race” is really a misnomer. When it comes to rodent control, it’s more like you have to beat them at their own game. If it was a race, we’d lose.